The Temperance Pledge

John Gibson Dunn (American, about 1820-1858)

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Jacob Dunn, a native of Indiana and the son of a state treasurer, decided to enter the Indianapolis studio of Jacob Cox in 1840. After a short period of art training, he took up medicine and received a degree from a college in Cincinnati. Other than his appointment as an assistant surgeon in the Mexican Ware, it is not known to what extent Dunn practiced medicine. He was listed among the painters of Indianapolis in the spring of 1851. During the first few months Jacob Cox was in Cincinnati he and Dunn had a studio together.

Dunn, whose early death Jacob Cox attributed to excessive drinking, ironically chose the Temperance Pledge as the subject for this painting. It represents a man who hesitates before signing the pledge, while his wife encourages him and the devil offers him a glass of liquor. The man’s mended coat and frayed collar and shirt make his poverty painfully obvious, while the redness of his face suggests that what little money he did have was being spent on liquor.


Mary Q. Burnet. Art and Artists of Indiana, New York: The Century Company, 1921. Reprinted by Unigraphic, Inc., 1981. ASIN: B002J7QO2K

Object Information

John Gibson Dunn (American, about 1820-1858)
creation date
about 1851
oil on canvas
40-1/4 x 33 in. (canvas)
50-1/4 x 42-1/4 x 3 in. (framed)
accession number
credit line
Gift of Mrs. Morris Clark
Public Domain
American Painting and Sculpture to 1945

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